After years as gypsy brewers, Joe and Lauren Grimm, the husband and wife team behind Grimm Artisanal Ales finally opened their own brewery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We visited the bright, sun-filled taproom to discuss their journey. We covered a lot of ground including making pickles, having no plans, and going all in on barrel-aged sours.
BKBR: A lot of people who read our blog probably aren’t super familiar with your story. How did you get into this whole beer thing?
Lauren Grimm: In many ways we probably were similar to the people reading your blog--we were people who wanted an outlet for creativity and this was over a decade ago. The beer scene wasn’t at all what it is right now. We weren’t that excited about beer even, we were excited about fermentation. Joe and I had a really strong fermentation cellar in our apartment at the time where we were making pickles and charcuterie and a lot of different fermented beverages.
Then we went to Europe and learned all about Belgian beer and came back home and started to buy up all the Belgian beer that we could find and what was so exciting about it was there was a lot of fermentation flavor in the Belgian beers. We weren’t so excited about the American beers that were out there at the time which kind of down played the yeast profile but we were really excited about the Belgian beers, which we originally started to brew when we were brewing at home. We only made Belgian-style beers our first year as a company.
Joe and I have a philosophy of continuing to refine and develop all of the processes that we’re involved in so we don’t ever have this grand plan or scheme that were attempting to fulfill. Maybe we start at Belgian- style beers and then grow and evolve with the ingredients that are available.
Joe Grimm: We’re just following our interests.
BKBR: Are we ever going to see Grimm pickles or charcuterie?
Lauren: (laughs) Maybe! We have this fantasy after building out this place, since we have a farm brewery license, we should open little places that have charcuterie and beer. No immediate plans.
BKBR: You guys started as nomadic brewers. Was there a turning point where you decided you had to have your own space?
Joe: Our initial desire was to open up a place, we didn’t plan to be gypsy brewers. We sort of ran into a dead-end as far as funding went, we just couldn’t get the half million dollars we would have to have in order to do this. So we decided to make it happen however we could and since then we’ve been building it up slowly. Working in other people’s spaces gave us the ability to imagine how we would do it in our own place while we sort of pieced together all the pieces of the puzzle to make it happen.
Lauren: Over the years of gypsy brewing, there were times where we thought it was amazing-- we didn’t have to raise the capital and we could just jump right into brewing and focus only on the beer. Then other times we would think we can’t take this anymore, we need our own space and we need no limitations.
Joe: It was really frustrating to hear no!
BKBR: How long has this physical location been in the works?
Lauren: We saw this building in May 2016 and a year before that we started to talk to banks about giving us a loan.
Joe: It’s been going on for the majority of time we’ve existed as a company. We’ve been putting things together to get the pieces in place.
BKBR: We imagine it feels pretty good to be open.
Joe: It does, it’s pretty crazy though because suddenly there’s a lot more to handle.
Lauren: We’re people who like rigor and a challenge so I feel like the limitations of brewing out of someone else’s brewery-- we hit that. Where else do you go? You could of course make more beer but Joe and I want to continue to experiment and play around with our processes and our ingredients. The only way to continue to develop that was to open our own place.
Everyone keeps asking, “How does it feel to have the place open?” I feel like it’s in this timeline of experience in which things are really hard right now but it’s also amazing and we love it. It’s a new challenge that’s kind of cool.
BKBR: Given that gypsy brewing was the start of this project, where do you go from here?
Lauren: That’s a good question and I think we’ll have to see.
Joe: We have so much on our plate right now that really the thing we’ve done here is create a space where we can grow creatively. We want to do that and thinking about how we can expand is not where our head is right now,
Lauren: We’ll move on to how we can expand this brewery or move beyond it when this feels easy. It’s like learning to tie your shoes--when you’re that age it’s all you can imagine but then you move onto bigger things and your imagination gets bigger. Or maybe it’s more like learning to crawl, walk, then run.
Joe: It’s our first time having a lot of employees and dealing with infrastructure. We have to worry about if we’re going to melt the boiler down or think about how we dispose of grain. These are things that are part of brewing that we’ve been sheltered from due to our gypsy past. We didn’t have to deal with those nuts and bolts things and now we have to ask--how do we best get rid of this grain? What do we do with that dumpster? We want more AC!
BKBR: Did you always know you wanted to be in Brooklyn?
Lauren: We live in Brooklyn and I can’t imagine myself living in another borough, it just made sense. We live in Gowanus and since it was an industrial area we thought we’d find a place down there but they were all already taken or too expensive.
Joe: We looked at everything and briefly considered being on the North Fork of Long Island. There were people who had a farm who were trying to make us an offer we couldn’t refuse out there, but they didn’t quite get there and ultimately, we did refuse.
BKBR: Did you have a specific area in mind in Brooklyn?
Lauren: The story of finding this place is there is an art gallery like two doors down run by our friend Polly. We were going to see a show there, with work by our friend Greta, who draws a lot of our labels. Joe and I were walking there and looked up at this building which said “for lease.” I thought it was too nice and it was already taken and we’re never going to get it or be way too expensive. We called the number and two days later we were standing in here with a realtor who said it was available. It has 23-foot-high ceilings, the square footage is perfect, it’s just exactly what we wanted. Our landlord turned out to be an amazing person who saw what we wanted to do wanted to help us do it.
BKBR: We read that you have a quarter of this specifically for barrel-aged sour beer. Can you tell us about that? Is sour going to be the new IPA?
Joe: We’re not trying to make any statements about the direction of the world. We’re just trying to follow challenges and what seems like the richest terrain to be mining in. There is so much to learn and so much to do in that area. Nobody in the city has really dedicated themselves to that mission on the highest level. In this part of the country we’re still really behind the curve on making the best sour beer. I would like to have regularly available beers that are on the level of Jester King or Side Project or Sante and there is no reason we can’t do it. We’re going to bring that to New York.
Lauren: We’re also people who seek something more difficult--it’s just what’s interesting. With barrel-aged beers there is this whole other element to that process. Not only is it mixed fermentation where you’re using more than one microbe to create flavors but we have over 100 oak barrels and at a certain point we take samples from each oak barrel, blend them in small amounts and figure out exactly what flavor it is that we want. There is this second layer of creating that flavor whereas one of the beers in the fermenters we will have created the flavor once. It’s just a more interesting process with the barrels.
Joe: The process itself is really nuanced and rich and involves time.
BKBR: Are you finding that most of the people that come to visit so far are familiar with that sour program and are here for that or are people new to beer and want to try something new?
Lauren: Good question, I don’t know right now.
Joe: I think most people who have come in so far know us and know our beer. We just opened the doors and it’s been an initial rush of people who already get it. I think it will be interesting as time moves forward and we get just more neighborhood people who decide to venture in; we’ll see more of that initial experience with people who try different styles and respond to it in a different way. Right now, it’s a bunch of beer cognoscenti in here.
Lauren: I actually maybe have a slightly different opinion which is funny because this should be based on reality. We’ve only been open for two weeks and I think Joe and I are throwing out impressions of what we’ve seen. One thing I’ve found that’s interesting is that we’re getting more people who are just excited about what we are but don’t go to every beer release. On a Monday or weekday there are a lot of people from the neighborhood who think the place looks cool and want to come here. A lot of other breweries might not have natural light or have thought through the feel of the taproom in as many ways. I’ve noticed there are people who come in with friends who are into beer, or may have heard from a friend who is into beer.
Joe: I think our personal interest is largely in hoppy or sour beer or hoppy sour beer. We’re dividing our attention pretty equitably between those things. We’ll be adding more as we become interested in doing different things.
BKBR: I read something that said Grimm had no flagship beer. Do you agree with that sentiment?
Lauren: It’s definitely accurate in that we don’t have one flagship beer. I think it’s based around just an interest in wanting to do more things.
Joe: We only have X number of tanks so if they’re always filled with one thing then we would have less tanks to experiment.
Lauren: I was thinking about this because somebody asked about flagship beers. I was thinking that it isn’t something I’m ultimately opposed to, or is an ideology, it just isn’t something that has happened. We have no plans!
BKBR: That said, is there a beer that you have enjoyed making the most?
Lauren: Due to the more intense process of making the barrel-aged beers, I want to say both of us enjoy that process a lot because it’s so multifaceted.
Joe: It’s not so much that we can point to a beer as a much as a family of beers. The beers exist in lineages and we develop them through iterating on versions of that idea and whatever we’re curious about. The beers that we have in here in 750ml bottles are all part of a related series of beers with differences. Then we have a whole series of double IPAs that are related to each other, with differences. We play with different hops that we can experiment with and experiment with different levels of haze and crispness and softness. It’s sort of like taking this platonic form of this family of beers and then riffing on it and figuring out how we can tease out different flavors within that family. We’re both really into the barrel-aged beers that take the most time and effort because there is so much going into them. It’s really satisfying to have something come out the end with a lot of complexity.
Lauren: On the topic of flagship beers, I do think we have flagship styles. If we continue with what Joe just said we have these families of beers that are slightly different and we’re dialing up and down certain things that bring different flavors. You could say they’re maybe the same beer in some ways.
Joe: You could think about it like we only make four beers. We make them really differently each time. For example we make a barrel-aged sour beer and we make it lots of different ways or we make a double IPA or pale ale a lot of different ways.
There were a few other questions that led to the BKBR Team and Grimm philosophizing about whether all beer could be broken into five or six categories as opposed to the many we see out there now. We didn’t find a definitive answer but you should visit Grimm and decide for yourself.